Modern sculptures

Creations are both high-tech and very affordable

Balloons and giant hearts, a 15-ton dog covered in tens of thousands of plants – all these are Koons works that are not so easy to mount. For the director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, Bernard Blisten, Koons’ projects “rediscover the archetypal and symbolic power of know-how combined with professional and technical skill.” Indeed, all these elements are widely represented in the works of Koons, from this point of view, always very ambitious. His work involves collaboration with the best craftsmen and technicians. Before creating the Equilibrium series (1985), Koons consulted with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. The creation of each such sculpture is a complex task, requiring several years of work, resulting in only about 200 large works.

Most Expensive Living Artist

The fame of Jeff Koons and the prices of his work have been steadily rising over the past 20 years. It all started in May 2000 with the sale of Woman in the Bath (1998) for $1.7 million. The following year, the same work was resold for $1 million more. In June 2008, Koons broke new ground when his Balloon (Purple) (1995/2000) set his personal auction record at just under $26 million, making him, for a time, the most expensive living artist. The 2008 record came shortly before Koons’ flashy retrospective at Versailles to mixed reactions. The artist irritates many by being the epitome of the capitalist triumphalism of the art market. In any case, 11 years after the sensational Versailles exhibition, Koons is at the pinnacle of financial success, regaining the status of the most expensive living artist in 2019 thanks to the sculpture “Rabbit”.

The key to understanding this success is the word “cult”, and Christie’s understood this clearly when they lit up the neon ICON sign on the facade of their building before the auction. Christie’s has invested heavily in promoting the chrome bunny. By promoting a visual culture of pleasure, shared in its imagery, sophisticated in its construction, Koons has opened a path that new artists want to explore and that continues to attract new collectors. Jeff Koons, whose work has collected $ 938 million at auction in 20 years, is the most successful contemporary artist after Basquiat. Koons, however, is far from Basquiat’s expressive flamboyance. On the contrary, these two artists from the same generation embody different trends of the same era.

Basquiat/Koons at auctions: key figures

  •  1998: Paid the first million dollars at auction for a Basquiat work.
  • $110.5 million: record price for a work of contemporary art (2017), a work by Basquiat.
  • 3,000: The number of recognized works created by Basquiat during his lifetime.
  • $91.1 million: In 2019, Koons regained the title of the most expensive living artist.
  • 12%: Basquiat and Koons account for 12% of global contemporary art turnover.
  • $2,175 billion – this is how much Basquiat’s work has collected at auction over the past 20 years against $938 million from Koons.

Change in the annual auction turnover of the leaders of the art market (2000–2019)

Keith Haring: $1.5 million to $34.5 million
Jeff Koons: $5.2 million to $96.3 million
Basquiat: $10.5 million to $108.7 million
George Condo: $264,000 to $29.8 million
Richard Prince: $1 million to $25 million
Albert Oelen: from $55.5 thousand to $25.9 million
Rudolf Stingel: $12,000 to $21.4 million
Martin Kippenberger: from $586,000 to $11.4 million
Mark Tansi: $100,000 to $13.4 million

Painting first

Painting occupies 65% of the global contemporary art market

The most expensive works of our time reflect the success of pop art (and its heirs), historical and contemporary American abstract art, iconic street artists, and Chinese and Japanese artists entering the market in the new millennium. Works in these categories, marked by the highest market prices, are usually filled with energy, large sizes and rich colors. Seven- or eight-figure results are as important to the market as a whole (lifting it up) as they are rare: they concern less than 1% of the auction results, while three-quarters of the market works on canvas sell for less than $ 5 thousand. For 20 years, painting has proven itself as the main driver of the contemporary art market: it accounted for 65% of contemporary art sales in 2019, compared with 52% in 2000.

Sculpture: Formation and Destruction

The contemporary sculpture market is dominated by powerful and often controversial works – cutaway animals by Damian Hirst, provocative installations by Maurizio Cattelan, crucified frogs by Martin Kippenberger – rebellious, memorable and popular. Other visual artists, including Koons and Kapoor, are better known for their technical prowess, and their work requires significant research and production resources.

The sculpture market has also developed horizontally, with works available in a variety of sizes and materials. In particular, this happened to Takashi Murakami, who, following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol, founded his own factory – Kaikai Kiki Co.

Today, the company employs a hundred people who create unique works, limited editions, animated films and record covers, the company also supports young Japanese artists. In Japanese culture, there is no division into “high” and “low” culture, and this is perfectly reflected in the work of the Murakami workshop.

They form a whole, an integral feature of which is a modern consumer approach, as Murakami’s mentor Andy Warhol understood it, and as Koons and KAWS later understood it, each in his own way.

Sculpture is the second largest category in contemporary art sales, accounting for 16% of auction turnover. Over 20 years, sales have grown by 1485% thanks to phenomenal price increases for works by Koons and KAWS, British artists Hirst and Gormley, Germans Martin Kippenberger and Thomas Schütte, Japanese Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara and Italian Maurizio Cattelan.